Saturday, April 04, 2020

Demanding a sign

I already did a longer post on Bahnsen:

But now I'd like to revisit this particular claim:

The Christian cannot relinquish his submission to God’s authority in order to reason upon some alleged neutral ground. God makes a radical demand on the believer’s life which involves never demanding proof of God or trying Him. Even the Incarnate Son would not put God to the test, but rather relied upon the inscripturated word (cf. Matthew 4). The Christian does not look at the evidence impartially, standing on neutral ground with the unbeliever, waiting to see if the evidence warrants trust in God’s truthfulness or not. Rather, he begins by submitting to the truth of God, preferring to view every man as a liar if he contradicts God’s Word (cf. Romans 3:4). No one can demand proof from God, and the servant of the Lord should never give in to any such demand (and obviously, neither should he suggest that such a demand be made by the unbeliever). The apostles were certainly not afraid of evidence; yet we notice that they never argued on the basis of it. They preached the resurrection without feeling any need to prove it to the skeptics; they unashamably appealed to it as fact.

1. Frankly, I think there's a bit of bravado in Bahnsen's statement. Was he really that confident? Or is he just saying what he thinks he's supposed to say? 

2. Bahnsen's comparison with the temptation of Christ is disanalogous. Obviously Jesus has nothing to prove to Satan. And Jesus doesn't need a sign for himself. He the divine Son Incarnate. So this isn't a case of demanding a sign to be convinced in your own mind. 

This isn't even a case of demanding a sign to convince someone else. Satan already knows the true identity of Jesus. This is Satan's Hair Mary pass. His insane attempt to turn Jesus. 

3. Is it intrinsically wrong to demand a sign from God? I'll get to that in a moment, but suppose for argument's sake that it's always wrong to demand a sign from God. Even so, does it follow that it's necessarily wrong to ask God for a sign? Asking is different from demanding. Demanding implies conditional belief or obedience, where you won't do what God requires of you unless he provides a sign. By contrasting, asking implies that you're prepared to do what God requires of you anyway, but it would be a lot easier if he gave you a sign. Asking for a sign is humble in a way that demanding a sign is not. In distinction to making a demand, asking makes allowance for the distinct possibility that God may turn you down. I don't think Christians should routinely ask God for a sign, but I can think of situations where that doesn't seem to be faithless or presumptuous. The worst that can happen is that God will turn you down. Where's the harm? It's not like you're trying to force God's hand. Of course, there's the danger of disappointment, but that's true for prayer in general. 

4. In Scripture, many figures don't have to demand a sign from God or ask for a sign because they already have signs from God without the asking. So Bahnsen's logic is dubious in that regard. It fails to address the situation of people who don't need to demand a sign from God because it came to them unbidden. This doesn't prove that people have a right to demand a sign from God. It just means there's a serious gap in Bahnsen's argument. An in-between situation he fail to address. 

5. It also depends on where people are starting from. If, over centuries and millennia, a large body of evidence has accumulated regarding God and Scripture, then it's inappropriate to demand a sign. Inappropriate to demand new evidence. Indeed, that's often just a pretext. An excuse to disregard the preexisting evidence so that you can feel justified in not believing or obeying. 

Oftentimes, the mentality behind demanding a sign is that I'm entitled to firsthand evidence. God is obligated to perform a sign for me, to prove himself to me. 

But that's egotistical and irrational. I don't need firsthand evidence to know something is true. It many cases, it should suffice to rely on the experience of others. Indeed, we all rely on testimonial evidence. 

But at earlier stages in redemptive history, individuals don't have access to that collective body of evidence. So in their isolated situation, it doesn't seem inherently impious to ask for or even demand a sign. Especially when you consider what God requires of them. It's pretty important for them to know that God is the one who's telling them to do something.

And this can have parallels in space as well as time. There are geographically isolated individuals in the Christian era who don't own a Bible in their own language. 

6. In Scripture, and this also has parallels in church history–especially on the mission field–when an individual has an extraordinary calling from God, God is more likely to provide him with extraordinary signs. 

7. There's a paradoxical relationship between Christians, the disciples, and Scripture. To my knowledge, there are only two prophecies regarding the resurrection of the messiah–Isa 53 and the typological oracle in Ps 16. So there wasn't much to go on. To be convinced, the disciples needed more than Scripture–they needed the empty tomb and they needed to see the Risen Lord.

However, the comparison is equivocal because Christians have more Scripture than the disciples have. We aren't limited to two prophecies about the messiah's resurrection. Prophecies which, moreover, are a bit obscure without the context of fulfillment. 

Because the disciples were eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, and because the NT provides a record of the Resurrection, Christians can rely on the biblical witness in a way that the disciples were not in a position to while the disciples could rely on firsthand experience of the Resurrection in a way that Christians are not in a position to. 

Tech Giant alliance with the police state

Face masks

The National Association of Armed Robbers applauded edicts by public official requiring all citizens to don face masks when going outside. Face mask disguise the identity of armed robbers, but normally it's considered a tad suspicious or even provocative to walk into a bank or 7/11 with a face mask. Apt to make cashiers and security guards trigger-happy. But now that every customer looks like an armed robber, the pros blend right in without fear of raising alarm. 

The cult of expertise

During the pandemic, public officials have consulted medical experts on social policy. Expert advice is often indispensable. There are, however, limitations on expert advice:

1. Epidemiologists seem to be the primary consultants. That's fine up to a point. But it can lead to tunnel vision. For instance, an ER physician has a legitimate viewpoint but his professional experience is hardly a representative sample of society in general. 

2. There may be lack of consensus among experience in the same field.

3. Medical science is highly specialized and interdisciplinary. There are many medical specialists in cognate disciples with relevant expertise.

4. Outside of medicine, there are experts on growth curves. They know how changing a variable here or there can drastically change the projection.

5. There are other areas of expertise directly germane to the crisis. Take economists.

Likewise, psychologists, sociologists, and historians. Economic collapse will lead to joblessness, homelessness, higher property crimes, substance abuse, clinical depression, suicide, and general social unrest. 

6. And it shouldn't be confined to the "experts". Small businessmen ought to have input on policies that adversely impact the local (state, national, and international) business community. 

7. Experts can be highly politicized. Indeed, an entire field can become highly politicized. 

Is it improper to argue evidentially for the Resurrection?

A friend asked me to comment on an old article by the late Greg Bahnsen:

However, a serious difficulty arises when the epistemological significance of the resurrection is separated from its soteriological function. It is correct to hold that God’s raising of Jesus from the dead saves us both from sin and agnosticism, but it would be mistaken to understand by this that the epistemological problem could be handled independently of the (broader) moral problem which is at its base. It is with regret that one notices neo-evangelicals severing the justifying efficacy of Christ’s resurrection from its truth-accrediting function. In reality, the latter is dependent upon the former. Only as Christ’s resurrection (with its ensuing regeneration by the Holy Spirit of Christ) saves a sinner from his rebellion against God and God’s Word, can it properly function to exhibit evidence for God’s truthfulness.

i) The significance of the Resurrection is multifaceted, so it's a question of which facet it is deployed to prove. It has an soteriological value but also evidential value. By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father vindicates the mission of Jesus, confirming who he claims to be. If Jesus was a false prophet, God would leave him to rot in the grave.

ii) The reversal of death is an overwhelming phenomenon, in addition to the implicit promise of immortality. 

Evangelicals are often prone to generate inductive arguments for the veracity of Christianity based on the historical resurrection of Christ, and such arguments occupy central importance in this apologetic. It is felt that if a man would simply consider the “facts” presented and use his common reasoning sense he would be rationally compelled to believe the truth of Scripture. In such a case the evidences for Christ’s resurrection are foundational to apologetical witnessing, whereas their only proper place is confirmatory of the believer’s presupposed faith. There is a certain impropriety about attempting to move an opponent from his own circle into the circle of Christian belief by appealing to evidence for the resurrection, and there are many reasons why the evidentialist’s building a case for Christianity upon neutral ground with the unbeliever ought to be avoided.

i) Bahnsen never says what he means by "neutral ground." Presumably the point of contrast is "All facts are created facts which can be properly understood only when given the interpretation the Creator intends"

ii) Due to common grace, some unbelievers are more reasonable than others. They retain more common sense. 

Some Coronavirus Humility

We love Big Brother

How to treat coronavirus

In general, there are 4 or 5 main ways to "treat" Covid-19:

1. Vaccine.

This would be the best. However, it's also the one that takes the longest time to develop, involves the most extensive research, costs the most money, and so on. It's at least a year away. And that would be extremely fast. By comparison, consider that a vaccine was eventually developed against Ebola, but it took approximately 5 years. If I recall, I think it only arrived last year in 2019. Yet 5 years is more typical of the timeframe in vaccine development.

2. A new drug.

This would take slightly less research effort and time than a vaccine. Even if we accelerate it.

3. An old drug.

By this I mean a drug that has been used in other diseases or conditions but is re-purposed for the use in Covid-19. This is where most of the drugs we hear about in the news would be categorized. Such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. These drugs were anti-malarial drugs and also used in rheumatoid diseases like lupus. Today medical experts are trying to re-purpose them for use in Covid-19. However, contrary to what most the media is reporting, there isn't much good evidence that these drugs will work - at least not yet. There is promise and hope, but only time will tell. By the way, in case anyone is interested, here is a summary of all the clinical trials we are working on to date. It's not comprehensive, but it's close.

4. Covalescent plasma therapy.

This is a treatment that's been around for years. In a general sense, it's been around even as far back as the Spanish flu in 1918. It was used to some degree in the first SARS pandemic or SARS-1; our pandemic is SARS-2. Many medical experts working in infectious disease and vaccine development have been pushing convalescent plasma therapy (e.g. Peter Hotez at Baylor, Arturo Casadevall at Johns Hopkins, Ian Lipkin at Columbia University). Basically it's just transferring the antibodies (in blood plasma) from someone who has recovered from Covid-19 to someone who has been infected with Covid-19 (as treatment) or to someone who is at high risk of infection (as prophylaxis). So the elderly, the immunocompromised, health care providers. There wouldn't likely be enough for the general population, but we can target at-risk groups and perhaps even areas that are seriously affected (e.g. NYC, Seattle). This could help diminish the virus' spread so that we can get a better handle on things. Clinical trials are already under way. It should move much faster than vaccine development. The medical technology is available today and as such comparatively easy to implement. The major issue is rolling it out. I'm referring to logistics like setting up blood banks, asking for blood donors (though the donation would require much less effort on the donor than, say, donating blood at the Red Cross), and so on.

5. Supportive care.

This is primarily what we're doing now. For the sickest patients, i.e. patients in the ICU with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) which is the leading cause of death in Covid-19 patients, it's basically just trying to give them oxygen, help them breathe better via mechanical ventilation, make sure they stay well-hydrated with fluids, maintain their nutritional status, put them in a prone position (i.e. lying face down) which has been shown to significantly help reduce mortality from ARDS, etc. All this is far better than we had, say, in 1918 with the Spanish influenza, but it falls short of an effective treatment against the SARS-2 virus itself.


Ian Lipkin on convalescent plasma therapy

Peter Hotez on convalescent plasma therapy

"A Seattle Intensivist’s One-pager on COVID-19"

"Should we use #hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) +/- azithromycin to treat #COVID19?"

Friday, April 03, 2020

Respect begins at home

From a Facebook exchange with a Muslim apologist and another dude:

Bastard Israelis do the same and worse to Palestinians.

When Muslims stop brutalizing each other, maybe we will have something to say about how Israeli policing. Don't expect others to treat your own people better than you treat each other.

Let us at the same time not generalise as well.

It's not an isolated incident. Muslims who commit acid attacks in London. The rape culture. Honor killings. Women who are flogged and imprisoned if they refuse to wear a hijab. The cult of martyrdom of suicide bombers. Female genital mutilation. The list is long. So I'm unimpressed by Yusuf's selective outrage and moral blindness to the social pathologies of his own religious culture. Set your own house in order before pointing fingers at others.

Again it's not muslims. It's a couple of people who happen to be muslims. We need to be responsible. Let's not blame the entire group because of a few within that group.

It's about Muslims who take Muslim tradition seriously. Consistent Muslims. It's about the logical link between their theology and their behavior. These are not "abuses" but engrained in Islamic tradition.

this is the flagrant inconsistency in your position. There may be isolated incidents that you suggest.

But they're not isolated incidents. That's the point. You're in denial about that. This is endemic to the Muslim world. It's imported to non-Muslim countries by Muslim immigrants. It constantly repeats itself. Yes, other cultures have social pathologies, too. How does that obviate the same in Islam?

Go and deal with the misery and genocide that your race…

There is no American race. The USA isn't Iceland. The USA is racially and ethnically quite diverse.

there is the white race

Americans are hardly synonymous with the white race.

...and culture has caused on the whole of humanity.

Why not deal with the misery and genocide that Muslims have caused to African and Middle Eastern Christians?

and promote your own supremacist ideology.

Feel free to document my supremacist ideology. By contrast, Islam represents the epitome of a supremacist ideology:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force...It is (for them to choose between) conversion to Islam, payment of the poll tax, or death. Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, chapter 3.31.

get lost if you cannot provide a decent argument

You're hardly the arbiter of decent argumentation. You're just a partisan propagandist.

you are a pathetic troll. It's funny you choose to come on my timeline like a stalker and blast your invective

No, you chose to post your attack on Israelis on someone else's timeline.

What if Stalin died at 5?

1. I'm going to revisit a vexed issue in pastoral theology. For purposes of this post, I'm using "infant" (or "baby") as shorthand for anyone below the age of reason.

At one level we don't have to have an answer to the question since there's no definitive revelation on the topic. To be sure, the Bible is not an encyclopedia. We don't get all our information from Scripture. But this is the kind of question that only divine revelation can really answer. 

2. This dilemma is that while we'd be justified in leaving this an open question, it's a very practical, unavoidable question. So it seems necessary to say something about it. To offer some possible answers to grieving parents (grandparents and siblings). 

3. Here's a more optimistic treatment:

4. However, for purposes of this post, I'd like to briefly discuss the possibility of infant damnation. That's the most controversial position.

I suspect much of what makes it inconceivable for many critics is a mental picture of what they think it means. Roasting babies in the fires of hell. Or subjecting babies to psychological torment. 

5. If there is, however, such a thing as infant damnation, that's not anything like the model I'm exploring. 

i) Suppose Stalin died at 5. Might be from an accident or childhood illness. Doesn't matter.

His soul passes into the intermediate state. He's in the same psychological condition after he died than before he died. The intermediate state is neutral in the sense that for him, it doesn't add anything to make his psychological condition worse. There's no external factors that torment his five-year-old mind. He's just in his own mind. The intermediate state might simulate a playground. Nothing unpleasant or painful. A natural enjoyable setting for a five-year-old. 

ii) There seem to be two logical possibilities for the intermediate state of babies. They are frozen at the psychological age at which they die. That never changes (at least during the intermediate state). Or else they psychologically mature in the intermediate state until they have adult minds. They run through the same stages as the living, but without physical bodies. 

iii) Let's go with the second option. Eventually, Stalin has an adult mind. But suppose his psychological makeup is evil. He's morally warped. So he turns out much the same way as if he hadn't died at 5, but lived to be 20. 

So the intermediate state of Stalin, as he passes through the phases of cognitive development, from infancy to adulthood, becomes increasingly dark and hellish. That's not because he's tormented by external conditions. Rather, for him, the intermediate state is a hellish projection of his own twisted imagination. 

iv) Of course, that revisits the nature/nurture debate. Perhaps my scenario is not entirely realistic. It depends on the presence or absence of common grace and saving grace. Absent grace, residual good will be extinguished and evil will take over. Absent divine intervention, the default condition of human beings is prone to evil. Left to run its course, that's how it develops. A bad childhood can accelerate and exacerbate it, but doesn't create it. Babies aren't a blank slate. 

Why are gun sales up?

Just for the record, you can't kill #COVID19 with bullets:

About 2 Million Guns Were Sold in the U.S. as Virus Fears Spread
A New York Times analysis shows that March was the second-busiest month ever for gun sales, fueled by worries over the coronavirus.

1. Progressive theologian Randal Rauser is such a phony. On the one had he has sanctimonious tweets about how you haven't accurately represented a position you disagree with unless your opponents recognize their position in your representation. But he never makes a good faith effort to be consistent with his own advice when respenting groups and positions he viscerally disagrees with. Rather, he reaches straight for the caricature. 

2. I don't know for a fact why gun sales are up. I have't read the stories. I do know for a fact, and so does Rauser, that it's not because gun owners think you can kill a virus with bullets. 

3. Having said that, you can kill the carrier with bullets, and it's not hard to imagine secular regimes gunning down COVID19 carriers if the pandemic spirtals out of control. Consider a 28 Weeks Later scenario where a quarantine area is firebombed when it becomes contaminated.

Other reasons gun sales may be up:

4. If the pandemic causes a breakdown in civil order, then it's every man for himself. You can't expect the police to be able or willing to protect you. 

5. As a matter of fact, some Democrat officials have already said that police won't protect private property. They won't make arrests for property crimes. In that event, it's up to homeowners and businessman to defend themselves.

6. On the one hand, Democrat officials are putting all the law-abiding citizens in entire cities and states under house arrest. On the other hand, they are releasing convicted sex offenders into the community.

7. Democrat officials are using the crisis as a pretext and cover to shut down gun shops.

8. The police themselves become a threat to the public. Consider news footage from English of policemen and police drones harassing and fining private citizens for simply walking in the countryside. 

9. Likewise, if you had an economic collapse, and law enforcement officers weren't paid, they might resort to shakedowns. 

It's not rocket science

Militant atheist Fasta Parian argues:

you cant philosophically reason a rocket into space and you cant philosophically reason something into existence.

1. Not surprisingly, Fasta Parian is confused. There are multiple lines of arguments for the existence of God. And there's nothing illogical or unreasonable about arguing for God on the basis of logic and reason which are the tools of philosophical inquiry.

2. For that matter, science itself is argued for on the basis of logic and reason. Science can't even get off the ground (pardon the pun) if the scientist abandons logic and reason.

3. Science qua science can't prove the existence of God, but science qua science can't disprove the existence of God either. However science can provide evidence which supports premises in an argument for God. Of course, the atheist could say science can provide evidence which supports premises in an argument against God. If so, that's fine. My point is at worst science qua science is neutral with regard to the existence of God (but see #2). The real debate over the existence of God lies deeper than what science qua science is able to demonstrate.

4. Besides, it's not as if Fasta Parian even attempts to substantively interact with any reason for the existence of God. For example, I already gave Fasta Parian medical scientific evidence for the existence of the supernatural, the paranormal, miracles, and related phenomena (e.g. NDEs) - and keep in mind it was Fasta Parian who asked for the evidence - but Fasta Parian impatiently dismissed it all.

5. However none of this affects me nor bothers me as a Christian. Why should it? After all, the Christian can present reason and evidence for the atheist, but it's up to the atheist to do whatever he wishes with the evidence. If he wishes to ignore it or mock it rather than interact with it, then that's on him. The Christian doesn't lose anything. All the loss is on Fasta Parian's end.

It's like if a physician tries to save the life of a dying patient, but the dying patient just hurls insults and ridicule at the physician and refuses treatment (rather than asking honest questions about the treatment). That's fine, the physician can simply move onto someone else, while the patient can remain in their condition until they expire if that's their wish. No one is harmed except the patient, but that was their choice. Just like it's Fasta Parian's choice to reject reasonable arguments and evidences for Christianity.

Striking a balance

Don't misunderstand me: I have nowhere stated that all churches in the U.S. must continue to offer in-person services without any break or they are unfaithful. Nor have I ever suggested that appropriate precautions such as 6-foot distancing between family units and distribution of hand sanitizer should not be taken during such meetings. In certain situations delaying meeting for a short period of time may be necessary, particularly in areas heavily hit by the virus or in instances where the congregation consists predominantly of the elderly. What I am saying is that this can be done without supporting a State determination that public church services are nonessential and without stretching the situation out over several months. The State has no right under the First Amendment to assert that public church services are "nonessential services." Nor can churches concede this assessment by closing down their doors for many months.

Molinism three layers deep

Thanks to Bill Craig, who's done so much to popularize Molinism (while Plantinga did much of the intellectual heavy-lifting), this has become a chic alternative to Calvinism and Arminianism. 

Molinism goes three layers deep:

1. It posits that God has counterfactual knowledge of what libertarian free agents would do in every hypothetical situation. Molinists act as if it's self-evident that such knowledge is possible. 

There are, however, very sophisticated freewill theists who deny it. If the outcome could go either way, then even God can't know the outcome in advance. There's nothing to be known before it happens. 

If libertarian freedom is true, then our choices are independent of the circumstances. The past can be the same right up to the moment of choice, yet the agent is able to choose either way. So you can't predict the agent's choice from his situation. 

2. However, Molinism takes it down another layer. This isn't about God's counterfactual knowledge of what real agents would do, but nonexistent agents. Molinism posits that God has counterfactual knowledge of what agents who don't even exist would do in every hypothetical situation. They haven't been actualized as of yet. So that's one step removed from (1), which many sophisticated freewill theists already reject.

3. Finally, there's a third layer. Molinism posits that God has counterfactual knowledge of what agents who will never exist would do in every hypothetical situation. The class of possible persons is subdivided into a subset whom God will instantiate and another subset who will remain unexemplified possibilities. So that's two steps removed from (1), which many sophisticated freewill theists already reject. 

So it's odd to see how Molinists take key assumptions for granted that are not conceded even by many distinguished freewill theists. 

An interview with Gunter Bechly

"Interview: Gunter Bechly (Paleontologist)"

An interview with Peter Williams

"Interview: Peter J Williams (Textual Biblical Scholar)"

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Predestination and human actions

One death is a tragedy, one million a statistic

Replying to 
So then what? I suppose the Holocaust wasn't that bad in comparison, because only 6,000,000 died... I mean, 56,000,000 people die each year, so what's the fuss, right? COVID-19 is just getting started. R0>2, CFR 2% (assuming hospitals not overwhelmed). Where will it be in a year?

This comment makes two points:

1. It's premature to make historical comparisons with other causes of death until COVID-19 has run its course. We don't know the final death toll. 

2. The first point is more ethical:

i) There are different ways to assess the significance of death. Not all deaths are morally equivalent. Death in a plane crash is not in the same moral category as mass murder, even if more people die in the plane crash. So the significance of death isn't a crass utilitarian calculation about comparative statistics.

ii) That said, when formulating public policy, it's legitimate to ask why we should prioritize COVID-19 while there are other causes of death with far higher fatalities, yet we don't take the same measures to lower those rates. Not to mention the collateral damage of lockdowns and mass house arrest in response to COVID-19. 

So contrasting the fatality rates from different causes of death isn't an inherently heartless, mechanical comparison, but raises issues of moral consistency, the allocation of resources, and the limits of social control.  

Piper on the pandemic

Includes transcript

Do you find the Gospel shocking?

A basic problem I have with Arminianism (I'm using that as shorthand for varieties of evangelical freewill theism, including universalism) is that they only grasp half the gospel. The Gospel is supposed be shocking. That's because a good God, a just God, is supposed to punish the wicked. This is a point of tension that runs throughout the OT. On the one hand, Yahweh is supposed to punish the wicked. That's one of the things that sets him apart from heathen deities. The heathen deities are wicked, so they can't very well be just judges!

On the other hand, Israel is wicked. Some OT heroes of the faith do wicked things. So how can anyone be saved?

That's a point of tension or apparent contradiction which Paul wrestles with in Romans. For him, the contadiction is resolved through vicarious atonement and penal substitution. 

For those of us who've led charmed lives, the idea that God is supposed to punish the wicked is an abstraction. But many people throughout history and right up to our own day, live in societies where individuals or entire regimes commit hateful miscarriages of justice, and get away with it. They even flaunt their immunity. They get away with it because the legal system is twisted by nepotism and bribery. Where the administration of justice all depends on the race, religion, or social class of the perpetrator and victim. They are used to seeing atrocities committed with impunity. 

From that standpoint, the idea of a God who forgives the wicked is shocking and appalling. You can't understand or appreciate the gospel unless you allow yourself to find it morally shocking or even initially repellent. 

And for many Christians, that takes a conscious effort. If you've led a charmed life, you need to seriously imagine what it's like to suffer horrendous injustice, and watch the perp get off Scot-free. You need to mentally project yourself into that situation. 

Likewise, Christians can become so conditioned by the notion of divine love and forgiveness that they take it for granted. The shock of the Gospel rolls right off their backs. 

They jump straight to love. They jump straight to forgiveness. They skip right over the morally shocking, morally outrangeous stage of the Gospel. 

But Christians should never lose the shock value of the Gospel. That's not a phase to outgrow. Without that point of contrast, you lose have the message.

That's what's so repulsive and nauseating about the glib theology of someone like Jerry Walls. 

The fate of the unevangelized

An exchange I had on Facebook, slightly edited. 

The assumption of Scripture is that human beings are born lost. They come into the world in a lost condition. They don't have to do anything special, anything extra, to be in a lost condition. That's their default situation. The Gospel takes for granted that they are already lost. That's what they need to be rescued from, if they are not be rescued at all.

Sure. But the question is is there the opportunity for them to be rescued, if they've never heard of the solution?

If they never hear and believe the Gospel, that's a way of saying the remain in the same condition into which they were born. Nothing changed to shift their original lost condition.

Yes, but should they not at least be given the chance to hear the message that will change their condition?

Why? To be spiritually lost is not simply an innocent misfortune, but a preemptive punishment for sin and willful alienation from God? In Scripture, it's not as if they are lost through no fault of their own.

No, but their geographic location (which is relevant to whether or not they may hear the solution to their condition) is through no fault of their own. God decides where and when people are born.

1. They're not lost because of their geographical location. Their geographical location simply keeps them in their lost condition. It's like If I'm bitten by a cobra and don't have access to antivenom, so I die. In a roundabout sense you could I died because I didn't receive antivenom, but I wouldn't need it in the first place unless I was dying from snakebite. Lack of antivenom is a secondary cause of death, but the primary cause is snakebite.

2. The fact that some people live and die outside the pale of the Gospel is God's preemptive judgement.

I agree that their geographical location does not condemn them. But a better analogy would be that you for bitten by snake, and God chose whether or not you'd be in a location where there is Anti-Venom. Shouldn't everyone get access to the Anti-Venom, and have it up to the people as to whether or not they will accept or reject that cure?

No, because a person's moral condition can be a disqualifying factor. If a serial killer was bitten by a cobra, he's not entitled to antivenom. It's no injustice to let him die. Indeed, it's an injustice to let him live.

But wouldn't the sense of humanity mean that everyone is a serial killer in the situation? It seems more plausible to say that either all killer should die, or that all of them should be given mercy. If all of the killer sins are the same, why would some be saved over others?

1. If no one deserves to be saved, no one has a right to God's mercy, so it's not unjust for God to discriminate. Discrimination is only wrong in cases where two or more individuals have equal claims.

2. We need to resist the temptation of wanting too hard for something to be true just because we wish it was true, then creating a belief system because we want so hard for that to be the case. Like a teenage boy who's hopelessly in love with a girl who doesn't share his affection. He may convince himself that she's the only girl for him, he won't settle for anyone else, and he passes up realistic opportunities vainly pining for the unattainable.

3. Now, if we wanted to wax speculative, it's possible that God created a multiverse in which the lost/unreached in our world are evangelized/saved in parallel world. But that's just conjecture. Might be true but not something we can bank on.

That multiverse theory is basically Molinism

1. Molinism has no monopoly on counterfactuals and possible worlds. Leibniz wasn't a Molinist. Counterfactuals and possible worlds fit into Calvinism, too. Molinism has a theory of middle knowledge, based on God's alleged insight into what nonexistent agents with libertarian freewill would do under various circumstances. The speculative scenario I floated doesn't have or require all those assumptions. It's entirely compatible with predestination.

2. Regarding what happens to the souls of babies:

i) We don't have any definitive revelation on that.

ii) It's possible that God saves everyone who dies below the age of reason. 

iii) That, however, is rather arbitrary. Salvation or damnation through lucky or unlucky timing.

iv) Why would Stalin be saved if he dies at 5 but not at 20–given how he was going to turn out?

What if he dies at 5, passes into the intermediate state, and matures into what he was going to be like at 20 if he hadn't died at 5?

v) I'm sure God saves some dying babies. On a positive note, in Scripture God has a special regard for orphans. And no one is more orphaned than a dying baby.

Approaching the ontological argument

Anselm proposed a famous, fascinating, controversial theistic proof. Some scholars contend that he presented two different versions of the ontological argument or two different ontological arguments. Other thinkers like Scotus, Descartes, Leibniz, Gödel, and Plantinga proposed their own versions. 

I don't have an opinion about whether or not Anselm's argument, as it stands, is successful. That's because I don't know what he means, and interpretation is prior to evaluation. I can't assess it before I understand it. 

I doubt even he knows what it means. His argument is intuitive and compressed. He had a flash of insight which he labors to sharpen. He may be onto something, but he's fumbling to articulate his insight.

Here's one thing I will say about his argument. It raises the question: is our imagination greater or lesser than reality? Does reality exceed imagination or imagination exceed reality? 

For Anselm, God is the greatest conceivable being, and that's a good definition. For Anselm, the idea of a greatest conceivable being must have a counterpart in reality.

Human intelligence is quite limited. A paradox of human intelligence is that we're just smart enough to be aware of our intellectual limitations. Even the very smartest human beings hit a wall, and the distance between their understanding and wall of reality is very short. The distance between a human with Down Syndrome and the smartest man who ever lived is incomparably shorter than the distance between the smartest man who ever lived and reality. 

It's quite counterintuitive to suppose our imagination is greater than reality. To the contrary, not only is reality the equal of anything we can imagine, but infinitely beyond what we can imagine.

Therein lines the truth of the ontological argument. Is reality greater or lesser than what we can conceive? Surely reality is much bigger than the human mind. 

I'd add a caveat. Not everything conceivable is possible because an isolated idea needn't be consistent with every necessity and truth. We imagine little pieces of things that might not be possible or realistic if developed to their logical conclusion. 

But so long as the idea of God, as the greatest conceivable being, is coherent, then the basel insight of the ontological argument must be true, however successful or unsuccessful the precise formulations. 

It might be objected that we're talking about a human idea of God. Yes, Anselm has a limited grasp of what it means to be the greatest conceivable being. But in that respect, the reality is inconceivably greater than our idea of a greatest conceivable being. 

So it comes down to the question of whether human imagination surpasses reality or reality surpasses human imagination. I think the only reasonable position to take is that human imagination is just a sample of an illimitable, superhuman reality that exceeds the reach of the human mind in all directions. 

The existence of God

Do all theodicies fail?

I'll comment on part of a thread by atheist Jeff Lowder:

Likewise, when atheists argue that facts about evil, pain, suffering, imperfection are evidence against God's existence, it's a complete nonstarter to talk about how God is logically compatible with those facts. 

i) That depends. Mere logical compatibility might be a makeshift explanation. That's not sufficient. If, however, logical compatibility means evil, pain, and suffering are not surprising given the overall tenets of Christian theism, then that's a legitimate explanation. If that fails to satisfy the evidential argument from evil, the failure is not in the explanation but in the way the evidential argument is formulated. 

ii) It's unclear what Jeff means by "imperfections". For instance, it's not a design flaw that I don't have fireproof fingers. If I accidentally burn my fingers, that's not an imperfection. Fingers need to be sensitive to perform many functions. Fireproof fingers would be numb. 

For parallel reasons, all known theodicies for the arguments from evil fail. They provide a possible explanation for which we have no independent reason to believe is true and/or the explanation is not probable on the assumption theism is true.

i) That's ambiguous. We often resort to explanations that are reasonable even though we lack independent evidence that they are true. Why is someone late for work? Maybe they had a flat tire, accident, or family emergency. We don't require corroboration for that conjecture to make it a legitimate conjecture. We know that those kinds of things happen. We know he's a responsible employee. 

ii) It's often rational to provide a possible explanation when we have no independent evidence that it's true, because it's not necessarily about having direct evidence for the explanation, but indirect evidence given the character of the agent, as a competent and benevolent agent who has good reasons for what he does.

iii) On the assumption that Christianity is true, it's not merely probable but inevitable that some of God's actions will be inscrutable given the complexities of historical causation. Normally it's wrong to inflict pain on a young child. The child doesn't understand why the doctor is performing a painful procedure. He doesn't understand why his dad is standing by, allowing that to happen. 

(Aside: I also forgot to mention another requirement: the theodicy or atheodicy has to make the fact to be explained probable. Many theodicies and atheodicies also fail this requirement.) 

Probable in relation to whom or what frame of reference? An atheist? 

Once again, an explanation needn't be probable to be legitimate. To recur to my previous example, an employee may be late for work because they had a flat tire, accident, or family emergency. Since I don't know for a fact why they are late for work, I can't say which explanation is probably the correct explanation. And it may be an explanation I didn't consider. 

But we could put this in reverse: it's improbable that he decided to play hooky, given his track-record as a responsible employee. 

For example, the pain a terminally ill patient feels in the hours or days before death does not aid in survival or reproduction. Now, if theism is true, then God must have a morally sufficient reason for allowing all pain, including pain which does not aid in survival or reproduction. 

i) Because the human nervous system is fairly coarse-grained. It wasn't designed to be that discriminating. But that cuts both ways. It wasn't designed for us to enjoy chocolate gelato. That doesn't aid in survival or reproduction. But why is that the only justification? 

ii) Because Jeff is locked into attacking generic theism, he overlooks distinctive assumptions, resources, and explanations provided by Christian theism. He acts like all pain must be a design flaw, as created. But in Christian theology, the natural world always contained dangers and potential sources of pain. The difference is that in an unfallen world, humans might expect special providential protection from certain kinds of harms. 

The basic idea of UPD is that God exists, and God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing pain, suffering, imperfection, or evil, and that reason is unknown to (or unknowable by) humans. 

That reply is good as far it goes, but it doesn't go far enough to defeat the atheistic arguments from pain, suffering, imperfection, and evil. Yes, God may have unknown reasons for allowing such things, but he might also have unknown reasons for preventing such things. 

There is no antecedent reason why God-permitting reasons are more likely than God-preventing reasons, and so both of those reasons cancel out. What we're left with is what we do know. 

i) Those aren't mutually exclusive explanations. It's not a choice between God permitting every evil and God preventing every evil. Some evils are necessary sources of second-order goods, but too much evil swamps the good. There is no general principle that God-permitting reasons are more likely that God-preventing reasons, or vice versa. God-permitting reasons ought to be more likely that God-preventing reasons. That assessment involves striking a balance between competing goods that humans lack the information and intelligence to appreciate.  

ii) In addition, the preemption of evil is invisible. A nonevent leaves no trace evidence. So we can't do a comparative assessment of how often God permits evil in relation to how often God prevents evil. We only have one side of the comparison.

iii) However, both divine permission and divine prevention of evil have a disruptive impact on the future. So these represent alternate world histories. A world where God prevents more evil will have a different history than a world in which God permits more evil. 

iv) That, however, doesn't mean a world with less evil is a world with more good. Some evils are necessary evils insofar as some evils provide the necessary conditions for certain kinds of goods. 

Forced mass quarantine

4. Forced mass quarantine or any other top down approach to an outbreak securitizes the response. This may not be successful and could increase the spread of the disease. Sick people actively seeking care, testing and public health messages concerning self-isolation and quarantine of contacts are the ways to end outbreaks. Forced mass quarantines are a direct barrier to those activities. One cannot slow the spread of disease if people hide infections out of fear or stigma. When authorities attempt to enforce a mass quarantine on a large population they will not be 100% effective. By stigmatizing the infection and symptoms they will teach others to hide their symptoms and drive key populations underground. This results in less sharing of information with authorities and medical providers, and the most desperate and the highest risk populations will seek to break quarantine.

US Naval War College game

OT slavery

(I've updated my post with a round 2 and a round 3.)

Fasta Parian:

Leviticus 25 44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

Yep. The bible has no issue with slavery.

My response:

How Much Of The Enfield Case Was Faked?

I've argued at length for the authenticity of the Enfield case, such as in a recent post about the credibility of the witnesses. But how much of the case was inauthentic?

I'll be making a lot of references to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes below, and I'll use "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to designate Playfair's. MG79A refers to Grosse's tape 79A, GP2B refers to Playfair's tape 2B, etc.

I don't know of any significant evidence that anybody other than the Hodgson children was involved in fraud. That's important, given the large number of other people involved in the case. You occasionally come across skeptics of a more ignorant variety who claim, without justification, that other individuals faked events. But, in my experience, those are skeptics who take that sort of approach toward the paranormal in general. They speculate that all sorts of witnesses in all sorts of contexts are lying for money or faking things in an attempt to get attention, for example. But that sort of approach toward the paranormal is more of an assertion than an argument. It's a highly unlikely hypothetical that I've never seen anybody substantiate. (For a discussion of why such hypotheticals should be considered highly unlikely, see my earlier post on the credibility of the Enfield witnesses.) More knowledgeable skeptics limit their accusations of fraud to a small percentage of the witnesses, namely the Hodgson children. See the opening paragraph of the post here for documentation that skeptics who are more knowledgeable argue that way.

No less a critic of Enfield than Anita Gregory made the point in her doctoral thesis that she didn't want to be accused of claiming that an entire paranormal case is falsified if any event within it is discovered to have been faked. I noticed multiple places in her thesis where she made the point. She acknowledges that it would be "crude and simplistic" to think that "any play-acting by the children" proves that nothing paranormal occurred in the entire case (189-90). In a 1982 article included as supplemental material in her thesis (section G), she writes:

"Lord Sumption explains national overreaction to coronavirus"

(Credit to Steve from whom I first saw this.)

Chinese Health Organization

By the way, in addition to how China has been treating Taiwan, let's not forget how China has been treating Hong Kong, which I've posted about in the past.

Also, I think we should stop funding the WHO.

Spinning in the dark

I'm going to comment on this exposition of the evidential problem of evil:

The entry was written by a philosopher who specializes in the problem of evil (Nick Trakakis).

The evidential problem of evil is the problem of determining whether and, if so, to what extent the existence of evil (or certain instances, kinds, quantities, or distributions of evil) constitutes evidence against the existence of God, that is to say, a being perfect in power, knowledge and goodness. Evidential arguments from evil attempt to show that, once we put aside any evidence there might be in support of the existence of God, it becomes unlikely, if not highly unlikely, that the world was created and is governed by an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being. Such arguments are not to be confused with logical arguments from evil, which have the more ambitious aim of showing that, in a world in which there is evil, it is logically impossible—and not just unlikely—that God exists.

i) If that's a requirement for the evidential problem of evil, then I reject how the issue is framed. How is it reasonable set aside evidence in support of God's existence when considering whether the world was made and governed by an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God? For instance, what if the evidence for God's existence includes evidence of divine benevolence? Surely evidence of divine benevolence is directly germane to whether the existence of evil counts as evidence against the existence of God? At the very least, those have to be weighed against each other. 

ii) Moreover, it's unreasonable to consider the likelihood or not of God's existence in insolation to all the available evidence. Perhaps, though, Trakakis has in mind a kind of cumulative case against God's existence, where you assess each type of evidence individually, then combine them. Even so, that has to be counterbalanced by considering the positive evidence, if any, for God's existence. 

iii) Likewise, if there's evidence for God's omniscience and omnipotence, then that's directly germane to whether God might have a good reason not to prevent evil, even if the reason is inscrutable to humans. 

iv) I agree that more than sheer consistently is demanded, since an ad hoc explanation might be logically consistent. Rather, it should be consistent with the nature of God and his modus operandi. Not out of character. Not detached from theology. 

A theodicy may be thought of as a story told by the theist explaining why God permits evil. Such a story, however, must be plausible or reasonable in the sense that it conforms to all of the following:

a. commonsensical views about the world (for example, that there exist other people, that there exists a mind-independent world, that much evil exists);
b. widely accepted scientific and historical views (for example, evolutionary theory), and
c. intuitively plausible moral principles (for example, generally, punishment should not be significantly disproportional to the offence committed).

Judged by these criteria, the story of the Fall (understood in a literalist fashion) could not be offered as a theodicy. For given the doubtful historicity of Adam and Eve, and given the problem of harmonizing the Fall with evolutionary theory, such an account of the origin of evil cannot reasonably held to be plausible. 

i) From a secular standpoint, it's not a given that evil exists. If that reflects the viewpoint of the atheist, then he needs to justify moral realism on secular grounds. In principle, it's possible for him to address the problem of evil for the sake of argument, by attempting to show that Christian theism is self-contradictory in the regard. But those two approaches need to be disambiguated. 

ii) Ironically, metaphysical idealism is becoming an academic fad.

iii) A Christian may well disagree with the moral intuitions of an atheist. 

iv) Unless we're dealing with the evolutionary argument from animal suffering, or the Fall, I don't see that the status of evolution is generally relevant to the evidential argument from evil. 

v) The Fall, whether human or angelic, can't be an ultimate explanation for evil since that only pushes the question back a step to the origin of their moral defection. 

A similar point could be made about stories that attempt to explain evil as the work of Satan and his cohorts.

i) But demonic and diabolical evil are fixtures of Christian supernaturalism. So that can't be eliminated from a Christian theodicy. Although that falls short of an ultimate explanation for the origin of evil, yet given the existence of fallen angels, many particular evils are the result of demoniacal and diabolical agency. 

ii) Admittedly, Christian theism isn't the explicit target of the argument as formulated by Trakakis, but for a Christian, the evidential argument from evil must engage Christian theism. In that context, you can't just strip away angelic evil, as if that's piece of tape to peel off. That's part of the deep structure of Christian theology. 

iii) And besides the witness of biblical revelation, there's a lot of empirical evidence for demonic agency. It's just anti-intellectual prejudice and ignorance that brushes that aside. 

That may not plausible or reasonable to the atheist, but it begs the question to make his plausibility structure the benchmark. Here we may rapidly reach an impasse because both sides don't share the same plausibility structure. That doesn't mean no further progress is possible–inasmuch as each side can attempt to defend its own plausibility structure and critique the plausibility structure of the opposing side, but that will require a digression from the immediate bone of contention since both sides will have to take step back several paces and hash out some preliminary issues. And that, too, may lead to stalemate–so that they never return to the immediate bone of contention. An atheist is not entitled to simulate his plausibility structure as the privileged frame of reference. 

An important distinction is often made between a defence and a theodicy. A theodicy is intended to be a plausible or reasonable explanation as to why God permits evil. A defence, by contrast, is only intended as a possible explanation as to why God permits evil. A theodicy, moreover, is offered as a solution to the evidential problem of evil, whereas a defence is offered as a solution to the logical problem of evil. 

The basic problem I have with this approach is that once we bracket God , I no longer have a framework for what's plausible or reasonable. I'm at sea. I have no compass points. I'm intellectually lost. 

So I find the argument from evil tp be quite artificial and self-defeating. It's atheism, not Christianity, that must resort to ad hoc postulates. Without God I have nothing to work with. I can't get the argument started. Nothing is a given. There are no criteria. Nothing to lend the argument from evil any traction or foothold. You can't evaluate anything if you have no norms. The argument from evil has what little plausibility it enjoys by taking for granted many key assumptions that fade away once God removed from consideration. We left spinning in the dark.